Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How About 139 Worthwhile Movies?

Favorite Films from Biograph Times

Note from Rebus: The Biograph Theatre (1972-87) existed in a building that is still there. At this writing it houses an eatery dishing out noodles. Now it's the oldest building on its block. The houses that once shared the 800 block of West Grace Street have given way to VCU's new high-rise buildings. But the Biograph was more than a building, it was a scene. It was that cinema's staff. It was the people who watched movies there. 

Moreover, it was a bunch of movies.  


Why another list of old movies?

My lofty hope is that a reader might be persuaded to take a chance on one or two on this list, titles they've previously overlooked or forgotten about. In other words, once a know-it-all promoter of supposedly gourmet films, always such. It can’t be helped.

You see, I spent so many pleasant hours in my office sanctuary at the Biograph, reading about old movies, choosing double features and writing film notes that the urge to promote what I believe to be worthwhile flicks is still irresistible. When I see a good one on Netflix, these days, I can’t resist urging friends to check it out.

Why 139 movies?

Needed to pick a number, so this makes one film for each month I worked at the Biograph, from December 1971 (two months before it opened) through June 1983 (when I resigned). The titles on this list all played at the Biograph during my stint as its manager. So this isn’t the same thing as a list of my all-time favorites, which would include lots of movies that never played the Biograph.

Hopefully, this particular list represents a fair overview of the range of movies that were staples at art houses and revival theaters during what was the Golden Age of Repertory Cinema. Let’s say that was from 1966, or so, through about 1981 -- roughly, a decade-and-a-half.

And, of course, this list provides a handy source of movie trivia. With foreign language films, in most cases, I’ve used the convenient translation for the title. Exceptions to that rule were made when the foreign film is better known in this country by its original title. Like all the favorite films lists I’ve made, this one represents my favorites today.

So, some of the movies I might have liked a lot 30 or 35 years ago, that now seem less worthy, can't make the cut in 2013. As this chapter was compiled and crafted several changes from the first draft were made. For me, all favorites lists must be obedient to the mood of the moment.


Title, (Release Year), * Indicates a Richmond Premiere

"The African Queen" (1951): Color. 105 minutes. Directed by John Huston. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morely. Note: With WWI having reached a German colony in Africa, salty boat captain Charlie and prim missionary Rose are thrown together for a wild ride. Bogart and Hepburn are so much fun to watch it hardly matters how corny the story gets at times.

"Aguirre: The Wrath of God" (1972)*: Color. Directed by Werner Herzog. Cast: Klaus Kinski, Ruy Guerra, Helena Rojo. Note: A bizarre but fascinating look at accumulating madness, Conquistador-style, in search of a dream … by way of a river of danger.

"Alfie" (1966): Color. Directed by Lewis Gilbert. Cast: Michael Caine, Shelly Winters. Note: Set in swinging ’60s London, narrator Alfie tells the story of his convenient affairs of the heart. It’s the story of a charming young cad, constantly on the make.

"All About Eve" (1950): B&W. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Cast: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders. Note: Bette is at her bitchy best in this peek behind Broadway’s elegant curtains. Marilyn Monroe as the quintessential ditz sparkles.

"Amarcord" (1974)*: Color. Directed by Federico Fellini. Cast: Bruno Zanin, Magali Noël. Note: A nostalgic but fanciful glance back at growing up in a small Italian port, with its eccentric townsfolk, during the era of Fascist rule before WWII.

"American Graffiti" (1973): Color. Directed by George Lucas. Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Candy Clark. Note: A wistful glance at choices made in the process of coming of age in pre-JFK assassination times. The oldies soundtrack works to perfection.

"The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" (1974)*: Color. Directed by Ted Kotcheff. Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Micheline Lanctôt, Jack Warden. Note: Pushy, social-climbing Duddy is in an awful hurry to become a player, a somebody — a Boy Wonder.

"Bang the Drum Slowly" (1973): Color. Directed by John D. Hancock. Cast: Robert De Niro, Michael Moriarty, Vincent Gardenia. Note: A genuine oddity — a good movie about pro baseball players that even viewers who don’t care about baseball can love.

"The Battle of Algiers" (1966): B&W. Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo. Note: This account of the nasty tactics employed by both hardheaded sides during the Algerian revolution is part suspenseful documentary, part staged flick. It will tattoo your mind.

"Bell Du Jour" (1967): Color. Director: Luis Buñuel. Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli. Note: Beautiful Severine loves her successful husband. With him she’s frigid. Her kinky fantasies lead her to the oldest profession … only by day.

"Between the Lines" (1977)*: Color. Directed by Joan Micklin-Silver. Cast: John Heard, Lindsay Crouse, Jeff Goldblum. Note: The anti-establishment era in which an alternative newspaper was hip is winding down. The quirky staff wonders, what next?

"Black Orpheus" (1959): Color. Directed by Marcel Camus. Cast: Breno Mello, Marpressa Dawn. Note: This utterly charming film is the retelling of a Greek myth, set during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. It won the 1960 Best Foreign Film Oscar.

"Blazing Saddles" (1974): Color. Directed by Mel Brooks. Cast: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens, Harvey Korman. Note: Unrestrained lowbrow, dirty-joke humor is at its cockeyed best in this mockery of formula Western movies.

"Blow-Up" (1966): Color. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Cast: David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles. Note: With England’s Mod scene in the background, a cocky fashion photographer stumbles onto a murder mystery … or does he?

"Das Boot" (1981): Color. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; Cast: Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Klaus Wennemann. Note: Submarine warfare during WWII, from the standpoint of the crew who manned Germany’s U-96 in a hell of deep water.

"Bread and Chocolate" (1974)*: Color. Directed by Franco Brusati. Cast: Nino Manfredi, Anna Karina. Note: An Italian immigrant in Switzerland, trying to make a living and keep his dignity, bumbles his way through this class warfare comedy.

"Breaker Morant" (1980)*: Color. Directed by Bruce Beresford. Cast: Edward Woodward, Bryan Brown. Note: This terse Australian film, set during the Boer War, is about how malleable truth can be in war, once politics overwhelm stark realities.

"Breaking Away" (1979): Color. Directed by Peter Yates. Cast: Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern. Note: Set in a college town, this class-conscious story uses its young protagonist’s bike-racing obsession to frame larger questions about society.

"Breathless" (1960): B&W. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg. Note: An opportunistic thief on the lam becomes irresistible to a pretty American journalism student in Paris. Uh-oh, the guy is dangerous. How long can it last?

"Cabaret" (1972): Color. Directed by Bob Fosse. Cast: Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Joel Grey. Note: A striking glimpse at the decadent German nightlife scene in 1931, with Nazis coming into power. Then again, it’s a dynamite musical and Liza was never better.

"The Caine Mutiny" (1954): Color. Directed by Edward Dmytryk. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson, José Ferrer, Fred MacMurray. Note: A nice adaptation of the Herman Wouk novel about a mutiny at sea in WWII. Contrived, or necessary?

"Carrie" (1976): Color. Directed by Brian De Palma. Cast: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, John Travolta. Note: Shy and telekinetically gifted Carrie finally runs out of patience with her rotten mother and the popular kids at school who taunt her. Payback!

"Casablanca" (1942): B&W. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid. Note: Africa. Rick and Ilsa. Paris! Nazis. Victor. La Marseillaise! Major Strasser. Escape. Fog. Captain Renault. Beautiful friendship.

"Cat Ballou" (1965): Color. Directed by Elliot Silverstein. Cast: Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin, Michael Callan, Dwayne Hickman. Note: Nat Cole and Stubby Kay sing the narration to this slapstick Western spoof. Lee Marvin won an Oscar for his dual roles.

"Cat People" (1942): B&W. Directed by Jacques Tourneur. Cast: Simone Simon, Kent Smith. Note: The first of the Val Lewton productions at RKO was an imaginative, stylish but cheap horror movie. This precursor to film noir was hugely influential.

"In Chien Andalou" (1929): B&W. Directed by Luis Buñuel. Note: A 16-minute early effort to adapt surrealism to film that is the result of a collaboration between Buñuel and his artist pal, Salvador Dali. It both stunned and outraged audiences in its day.

"Chinatown" (1974)*: Color. Directed by Roman Polanski. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston. Note: The dark story of a dogged detective, who won’t let go of a murder mystery, unfolds in pastel colors. Maybe as close to a perfect movie as it gets.

"Citizen Kane" (1941): B&W. Directed by Orson Welles. Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore. Note: The meaning of a powerful, lonely man’s last word enlarges into a mystery. Flashbacks reveal a life driven by lusts and obsessions.

"City Lights" (1931): B&W. Directed by Charlie Chaplin. Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee. Note: Silent movies were passé in 1931, but not with perfectionist Chaplin, who shot the pivotal scene with the blind flower girl 342 times.

"A Clockwork Orange" (1971): Color. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates. Note: This rather stupefying, yet prescient, look into the violent future of popular culture was seen as over-the-top in its time.

"The Conformist" (1971)*: Color. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin. Note: A visually stunning look at Italy, with Mussolini in power, with old class distinctions melting away and betrayal in the air.

"The Conversation" (1974)*: Color. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Cast: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Cindy Williams. Note: The secrets of a professional eavesdropper and a murder mystery are peeled away in layers in this brilliant character study.

"A Day at the Races" (1937): B&W. Directed by Sam Wood. Cast: The Marx Brothers, Maureen O’Sullivan, Allan Jones. Note: Dr. Hugo Hackenbush hurls wisecracks at everybody in sight, and the horse they rode in on. Great jitterbugging dance numbers.

"Day for Night" (1973): Color. Directed by François Truffaut. Cast: Jacqueline Bisset, Valentina Cortese, François Truffaut. Note: An engaging look at the process of making of a movie, with the private lives of the cast and crew intermingling with the production.

"The Day of the Locust" (1975): Color. Directed by John Schlesinger. Cast: Donald Sutherland, Karen Black, William Atherton, Burgess Meredith. Note: Adapted from the Nathanael West novel about the lure of stardom in Hollywood and the same old road to hell.

"Days of Heaven" (1978): Color. Directed by Terrence Malick. Cast: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard. Note: A love triangle rooted in deception develops in a dreamy film so striking to watch that the plot hardly matters, until something goes wrong.

"The Deer Hunter" (1978): Color. Directed by Michael Cimino. Cast: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Savage, John Cazale. Note: This war story pulls pals lose from their familiar blue collar moorings, to be cast into unimagined horrors.

"Dinner at Eight" (1933): B&W. Directed by Georg Cukor. Cast: John Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Marie Dressler, Lionel Barrymore. Note: A tight script brimming over with sarcasm and social commentary from the Depression Era’s school of laughs.

"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" (1972)*: Color. Directed by Luis Buñuel; Cast: Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig. Note: Probably prankster Buñuel’s most accessible film, this dream within a joke, within a dream, sparkles with its dry wit.

"Dr. Strangelove..." (1964): B&W. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Cast: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens. Note: Surprisingly, this outrageous, nuke-mocking black comedy worked like a charm at the height of the Cold War.
“Duck Soup” (1933): B&W. Directed by Leo McCarey. Cast: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Margaret Dumont. Note: With Rufus T. Firefly in charge of the tiny country, flush from a fat loan from Mrs. Teasdale, what could possibly go wrong? War.

“East of Eden” (1955): Color. Directed by Elia Kazan. Cast: James Dean, Julie Harris, Raymond Massey. Note: This adaptation of the Steinbeck novel provided the role that launched Dean’s meteoric career. Only six months after its release he was dead.

“8½” (1963): B&W. Directed by Federico Fellini. Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée. Note: A film about making a film, but fret not about making sense of it. Just watch as Fellini dazzles you with unforgettable characters and images.

“Elmer Gantry” (1960): Color. Directed by Richard Brooks. Cast: Burt Lancaster, Jean Simmons, Arthur Kennedy, Dean Jagger, Shirley Jones. Note: Lancaster’s riveting, Oscar-winning portrayal of a salty traveling salesman, turned evangelist, is unforgettable.

“Eraserhead” (1977)*: B&W. Directed by David Lynch. Cast: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph. Note: Is it all a moody but meaningless dream? Is it an experimental, fantasy flick? Or, is it a tongue-in-cheek spoof of haughty art movies?

“A Face in the Crowd” (1957): B&W. Directed by Elia Kazan. Cast: Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Lee Remick. Note: An early warning about television’s potential to boost a charismatic personality into power. Andy is a scary good villain.

“Farewell, My Lovely” (1975): Color. Directed by Dick Richards. Cast: Robert Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling, John Ireland. Note: Mitchum is perfect as Raymond Chandler’s detective, Philip Marlowe, in this faithful flashback to film noir’s heyday.

“Forbidden Games” (1952): B&W. Directed by René Clément; Cast: Brigitte Fossey, Georges Poujouly, Amédée. Note: The toll of mechanized war, as seen by small children who can’t grasp what’s happening around them, is stunning in this anti-war classic.

“Five Easy Pieces” (1970): Color. Directed by Bob Rafelson. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Sally Struthers. Note: A gifted pianist works oil fields and shacks up with a waitress to escape the expectations of his upper crust family. Then push comes to shove.

“The 400 Blows” (1959): B&W. Directed by François Truffaut. Cast: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy. Note: This story’s deft portrayal of a brave boy’s yearning for dignity in an indifferent world kicked in the door for the New Wave’s filmmakers.

“The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” (1971)*: Color. Directed by Vittorio De Sica. Cast: Dominique Sanda, Lino Capolicchio, Fabio Testi. Note: With WWII approaching, why did wealthy, well educated Jews stay in Germany and Italy? This film provides answers.

“Gilda” (1946): B&W. Directed by Charles Vidor. Cast: Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready. Note: Set in Argentina, everyone has too much baggage in this slick film noir classic. Rita, the songstress, stops the show by merely peeling off her gloves.

“Gimme Shelter” (1970): Color. Directed by Albert Maysles and David Maysles.  Performers: The Rolling Stones, the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Tina Turner and more. Note: A documentary with much concert footage and one murder.

“The Godfather” (1972): Color. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden. Note: Power, turf and family are at the heart of this quintessential mob saga. In other words, it’s about sincere payback.

“The Godfather II” (1974): Color. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Diane Keaton, Lee Strasberg. Note: Together, The Godfathers, Part I and Part II, received 22 Oscar nominations. Both won Best Picture.

“Grand Illusion” (1937): B&W. Directed by Jean Renoir. Cast: Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, Erich von Stroheim. Note: With the imagined glory of war waged honorably by proper gentlemen falling out of style, this classic spotlights the folly of modern warfare.

“Grapes of Wrath” (1940): B&W. Directed by John Ford. Cast: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Ward Bond. Note: This stirring story of Dust Bowl victims, a family pursuing a California dream of honest work, is still quite effective.

“The Great Escape” (1963): Color. Directed by John Sturges. Cast: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson. Note: McQueen is at his antihero best in this somewhat true WWII story about prisoners of war plotting a massive escape.

“The Harder They Come” (1972)*: Color. Directed by Perry Henzell. Cast: Jimmy Cliff. Note: In this Jamaican production, Cliff is Ivan, a pop star/criminal on the lam. This movie paved the way for the explosion of interest in reggae music in the mid-1970s.

“Harold and Maude” (1971): Color. Directed by Hal Ashby. Note: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort. Note: This off-beat comedy presents a whimsical story about an unlikely pair — an alienated, faux-suicidal rich boy and a feisty old lady. They both like funerals.

“Harry and Tonto” (1974): Color. Directed by Paul Mazursky. Cast: Art Carney. Note: Put out of his building in Manhattan, a retired teacher, Harry, and his orange cat, Tonto, go on a cross-continent journey. Carney’s performance won the 1975 Oscar for Best Actor.

“High Noon” (1952): B&W. Directed by Fred Zinnemann. Cast: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges. Note: The contrasts are vivid. Shadow or light? Happiness or duty? Community or self interest? Honor or whatever is the opposite? Life or death?

“His Girl Friday” (1940): B&W. Directed by Howard Hawks. Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy. Note: The pace of this gem about cynical newspaper reporters is nonstop. The rare comedic timing between Grant and Russell is impeccable.

“The Hustler” (1961): B&W. Directed by Robert Rossen. Cast: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott. Note: This beat parable, featuring pool sharks, gamblers and lost souls, follows a charming fool’s meandering quest for perfection.

“The Incredible Shrinking Man” (1957): B&W. Directed by Jack Arnold. Cast: Grant Williams, Randy Stewart, April Kent. Note: What about unanticipated dangers of new technologies? Primitive special effects don’t hurt this off-beat sci-fi flick’s charm.

“The Informer” (1935): B&W. Directed by John Ford. Cast: Victor McLaglen, Heather Angel, Preston Foster. Note: This film noir precursor depicts a betrayal within the ranks of the Irish Republican Army. Dark and pitiless, it’s about facing brutal choices in 1922.

“La Jetée” (1962): B&W. Directed by Chris Marker. Cast: Davos Hanich, Hélène Chatelain, Jen Négroni. Note: A stunning example of how less can be way more. This short New Wave classic about memory, imagination, longing and time is unforgettable.

“King of Hearts” (1966): Color. Directed by Philippe de Broca. Cast: Alan Bates, Geneviève Bujold, Pierre Brasseur. Note: The first movie to play at the Biograph was a zany French comedy, set amid the harsh but crazy realities of too much war.

“Lacombe, Lucien” (1974)*: Color. Directed by Louis Malle. Cast: Pierre Blaise, Auroe Clement, Holger Lowenadler. Note: How does a naive, nihilistic teenager in France, just looking for a way to fit in, end up running with the Nazi invaders? Hey, why not?

“The Last Detail” (1973): Color. Directed by Hal Ashby. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Otis Young, Randy Quaid. Note: Two old salts draw chaser duty to escort a young sailor to the brig. Feeling sorry for the luckless kid, a petty thief, they take a few last-chance detours.

“The Last Picture Show” (1971): B&W. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Cast: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd. Note: This adaptation of the Larry McMurtry novel is a coming-of-age story set in a dusty little Texas town, as its cinema dies.

“Last Tango in Paris” (1972): Color. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Cast: Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider. Note: A young woman and a middle-aged widower meet. Spontaneously, for no good reason, a passionate affair takes off like a runaway train.  

“Lonely Are the Brave” (1962): B&W. Directed by David Miller. Cast: Kirk Douglas, Gena Rowlands, Walter Matthau. Note: To help his friend, a free-spirited cowboy flings himself recklessly at the hobbling effects of modernity … then tries desperately to escape. 

“The Maltese Falcon” (1941): B&W. Directed by John Huston. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet. Note: With his first effort as a director, Huston brought Dashiell Hammett’s detective story about a mysterious sculpture to the silver screen.

“Manhattan” (1979): B&W. Directed by Woody Allen. Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway. Note: Woody Allen has consistently made worthwhile movies. Most have been funny enough. So far, he’s made at least one great film. This is it.

“M.A.S.H.” (1970): Color. Directed by Robert Altman. Cast: Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Sally Kellerman. Note: This cynical comedy about doctoring in the field, near the pointless battles of the Korean War, is funnier than the television show that followed it.

“McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1969): Color. Directed by Robert Altman. Cast: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie. Note: With Altman, gambling, prostitution and power struggles in the Old West take on a different sort of look. More grit. Less glory. All random.

“Mean Streets” (1973): Color. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Note: Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel. Note: This produced-on-a-shoestring-budget feature about awkward street hoodlums in New York’s Little Italy put Scorsese, De Niro and Keitel on the map.

“Medium Cool” (1969): Color. Directed by Haskell Wexler. Cast: Robert Forster, Verna Bloom. Note: Questions about the proper role of journalists are posed in this docudrama that includes real riot footage shot in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic convention.

“Mephisto” (1981)*: Color. Directed by István Szabó. Cast: Klaus Maria Brandauer, Krystyna Janda. Note: As the Nazis ratchet up their control of all aspects of German life, with his smartest friends fleeing the country, an actor feels trapped in his role.

“Midnight Cowboy” (1969): Color. (1969): Directed by John Schlesinger. Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Brenda Vaccaro. Note: For its unflinching exposure of characters usually in the shadows, this then-X-rated view of street life was a breakthrough in its day.

“Monterey Pop” (1968): Color. (1968): Directed by D.A. Pennebaker. Performers: Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas and Papas, Otis Redding. This music festival documentary established the genre.

“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1974): Color. Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle. Note: The previously unearthed, humorous parts of King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail are revealed.

“Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” (1953): B&W. Directed by Jacques Tati. Cast: Jacques Tati, Nathalie Pascaud. Note: Tati’s whimsical films establish a category of their own. In this one the ever bumbling Mr. Hulot, Tati’s disheveled everyman, visits a wacky seaside resort.

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939): B&W. Directed by Frank Capra. Cast: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains. Note: This idealistic take on down-and-dirty politics in Washington may seem corny. Does it still make you cheer for Smith? Of course it does.

“My Dinner With Andre” (1981)*: Color. Directed by Louis Malle. Cast: Andre Gregory, Wally Shawn. Note: Is it better to spend your life searching the world over, to find universal truths? Or, is it best to know one city, perhaps a neighborhood, absolutely.

“My Man Godfrey” (1936): B&W. Directed by Gregory La Cava. Cast: William Powell, Carole Lombard, Eugene Pallette. Note: This Screwball Comedy proves that the genre was at its best during The Depression, while laughing bitterly at class warfare’s absurdities.

“Napoleon” (1927): B&W. Directed by Abel Gance. Cast: Albert Dieudonné, Vladimir Roudenko, Edmond Van Daële. Note: The tale of resurrecting Abel Gance’s masterpiece from the ash heap is almost as fascinating as this ancient film is eye-popping.

“Nashville” (1976): Color. Directed by Robert Altman. Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson, Karen Black, Shelley Duvall, Keith Caradine. Note: An offbeat, cynical look at 1970s American society, as seen through the window of the country music industry.

“Network” (1976): Color. Directed by Sidney Lumet. Cast: Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden. Note: The future of cable television’s soon-to-be-seen excesses in bad taste is anticipated with chilling accuracy. Both Finch and Dunaway won Oscars.

“Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (1962): B&W. Directed by Robert Enrico. Note: Based on an Ambrose Bierce story about the Civil War, this stylish short French film originally appeared to American audiences as an episode of The Twilight Zone in 1964.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975): Color. Directed by Milos Forman. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito. Note: This zany look inside the walls of the loony bin offers the viewer plenty of laughs to wash down the indignities and tragedies.

“On the Waterfront” (1954): B&W. (1954): Directed by Elia Kazan. Cast: Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger. Note: The Academy threw eight Oscars at this gritty classic that asks — who deserves loyalty and what constitutes betrayal?

“Papillon” (1973): Color. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. Cast: Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Victor Jory. Note: Wrongly convicted, Papillon ends up in a hellish penal colony in French Guiana. Impossible as it seems, escape is all he can think about.

“The Passenger” (1975)*: Color. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Maria Schneider. Note: Set in North Africa, a bored reporter suddenly decides to assume a dead gunrunner’s identity. The unusual last scene is quite memorable.

“Paths of Glory” (1957): B&W. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Cast: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou. Note: In the trench warfare stalemate of WWI, the search for glory becomes a fool’s errand. Blame-shifting trumps mission. Loyalty evaporates.

(1970): Color. Directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg. Cast: James Fox, Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg. Note: A cruel gangster on the run hides out from trouble in a strange, drug-filled mansion with a faded rock star and his girlfriends.

“Phantom of the Paradise” (1974): Color. Directed by Brian De Palma. Cast: William Finley, Paul Williams, Jessica Harper. Note: This campy rock ‘n’ roll version of “The Phantom of the Opera” throws in some Faust and lots of laughs. It’s strange but it works.

“The Philadelphia Story” (1940): B&W. Directed by George Cukor; Cast Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart. Note: Although the typical screwball plot that mocks the filthy rich may seem ordinary, the dialogue and performances are anything but.

“Point of Order” (1964): B&W. Directed by Emile de Antonio. Note: This documentary was made with kinescope footage from the famous televised Army-McCarthy Hearings in the Senate in 1954. Welch to McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

“The Producers” (1968): Color. Directed by Mel Brooks. Cast: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars, Dick Shawn. Note: Brooks’ first feature film laughed at Nazis in a way never imagined. Mostel and Wilder are so audaciously funny it ought to be illegal.

“Psycho” (1960): B&W. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Martin Balsam. Note: Nervous Norman tries to be a good boy, but his demanding mother is hard on him. Misfortunate Marion is tired and wants to take a shower. Uh-oh…

“Putney Swope” (1969): Color and B&W. Directed by Robert Downey Sr. Cast: Stan Gottlieb, Allen Garfield, Archie Russell. Note: This strange but hilarious send-up of Madison Avenue was Downey’s effort to crossover from underground films to legit.

“Rancho Deluxe” (1975): Color. Directed by Frank Perry. Cast: Jeff Bridges, Sam Waterston, Elizabeth Ashley, Slim Pickens. Note: A duo of cattle rustlers in a pickup truck search for fun in modern day Montana in this offbeat and funny update of cowboy movies.

“Rashoman” (1950): B&W. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori. Note: This mystery, set in the Middle Ages, is told with flashbacks from different perspectives. Thus, the complicated nature of truth is examined.

“Rebel Without a Cause” (1955): Color. Directed by: Nicholas Ray. Cast: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo. Note: Yes, this teens-in-trouble melodrama is somewhat overwrought. Still, Dean’s way of inhabiting a character remains fascinating to watch.

“The Red Balloon” (1956): Color. Directed by Albert Lamorisse. Cast: Pascal Lamorisse, Sabine Lamorisse, Georges Sellier. Note: Using little dialogue, this utterly charming 34-minute French fantasy follows a boy and his balloon friend along the streets of Paris.

“Repulsion” (1965): B&W. (1965): Directed by Roman Polanski; Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser. Note: A beautiful young woman with the dead rabbit in her purse wallows in paranoia and descends into madness. You won’t forget this one.

“The Return of the Secaucus Seven” (1979)*: Color. Directed by John Sayles. Cast: Bruce MacDonald, Maggie Renzi, Adam LeFevre. Note: Before “The Big Chill” (1983), perhaps a better film with much the same hippie-days-reminiscing hook was produced.

“Rollerball” (1975): Color. Directed by Norman Jewison. Cast: James Caan, John Houseman, Maude Adams. Note: Crush individuality in a future with a few corporations running everything; combine hockey, roller derby and cage-fighting. You get Rollerball.

“Roman Holiday” (1953): B&W. Directed by William Wyler. Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck. Note: A bored princess runs away, looking for adventure. She falls for an American journalist. Everyday story? No, but this modern fairy tale has oodles of style.

“Sabrina” (1954): B&W. Directed by Billy Wilder. Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden. Note: A lightweight romantic comedy, but don’t worry about how silly the plot is. With Hepburn’s striking visage lighting up the screen, who cares?

“Seven Beauties” (1975)*: Color. Directed by Lina Wertmüller. Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Fernando Rey, Shirley Stoler. Note: Caught in a war, what, if anything, will captives refuse to do, if they want to survive? This drama/black comedy takes you there.

“The Seven Samurai” (1954): B&W. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Cast: Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune, Yoshio Inaba. Note: When bandits terrorize a peasant village in 16th century Japan, samurai warriors are recruited to fend them off. An epic ensues.

“Slaughterhouse 5” (1972): Color. Directed by George Roy Hill. Cast: Michael Sachs, Ron Leibman, Valerie Perrine. Note: “Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote about his character. In WWII in one minute, on another planet the next.

“Spellbound” (1945): B&W. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Leo G. Carroll. Note: Something is fishy at the mental institution and somebody is covering it up. The spooky dream scenes were designed by Salvador Dali.

“Stagecoach” (1939): B&W. Directed by John Ford. Cast: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Thomas Mitchell, Andy Devine. Note: With this saga that throws travelers together, to face peril, Ford made a star of Wayne and created a template for all Westerns to follow.

“Stage Door” (1937): B&W. Directed by Gregory La Cava. Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, Lucille Ball. Note: The wisecracks bounce off of every surface in this Screwball Comedy about would-be actresses living in a boardinghouse.

“Stalag 17” (1953): B&W. Directed by Billy Wilder. Cast: William Holden, Otto Preminger. Note: In a WWII German prison camp, most of the captives plot to escape, endlessly, except for one cynical sergeant who trades with the guards. Is he the traitor?

“State of Siege” (1972)*: Color. Directed by Costa-Gavras. Cast: Yves Montand, Renato Salvatori. Note: An American undercover agent who teaches the police in Uruguay brutal interrogation techniques is captured and put on trial by guerrillas. Who are the villains?

“A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951): B&W. Directed by Elia Kazan. Cast: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Karl Malden. Note: After directing this Tennessee Williams masterpiece on Broadway, Kazan adapted the play set in New Orleans to the silver screen … Stel-lah!

“The Stranger” (1967): Color. Directed by Luchino Visconti. Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Anna Karina. Note: Mastroianni is brilliant as Arthur Meursault, the detached protagonist of Albert Camu’s story of crime and punishment set in Algeria.

“Sunset Blvd.” (1950): B&W. Directed by Billy Wilder. Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim. Note: For a young struggling writer, down on his luck, why not coast for a while? Why not facilitate the batty fantasies of a rich old movie star?

“T.A.M.I. Show” (1964): B&W. Directed by Steve Binder. Performers: the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Supremes, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Lesley Gore and more. Note: Rare concert footage of young pop stars.

“Taxi Driver” (1976): Color. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Cast: Robert DeNiro, Cybill Shepherd, Peter Boyle, Jodie Foster. Note: This amazing portrayal of an alienated veteran’s decent into madness is still as eye-popping and haunting as it was 36 years ago.

“The Thin Man” (1934): B&W. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke. Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy. Note: This is the first of a series of six films about the sleuthing, drinking and wisecracking of dashing detective Nick Charles and his comely sidekick/wife Nora.

“The Third Man” (1949): B&W. Directed by Carol Reed. Cast: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli. Note: This elegant film noir mystery, set in crumbling post-war Vienna, is pleasing to the eye and stylishly cynical. Hey, no heroes here, but great music.

“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (1969): Color. Directed by Sydney Pollack. Cast: Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, Gig Young. Note: A Depression era melodrama about desperate characters participating in a dance marathon contest that borders on torture.

“A Thousand Clowns” (1965): B&W. Directed by Fred Coe. Cast: Jason Robards, Barbara Harris, Martin Balsam. Note: A social worker investigates the rules-bending circumstances in which a boy lives with his iconoclastic uncle, an unemployed writer.

“To Have and Have Not” (1944): B&W. Directed by Howard Hawks. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan. Note: In Bacall’s debut, Bogie is a cynical American expatriate who gets dragged into taking sides in WWII. Plot sound familiar?

“To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962): B&W. Directed by Robert Mulligan. Cast: Gregory Peck, Brock Peters, Robert Duvall. Note: A perfect adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about little girl learning from her father’s battle for justice and dignity.

“Touch of Evil” (1958): B&W. Directed by Orson Welles. Cast: Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh. Note: This noir-ish, crime melodrama, set on both sides of the American/Mexican border, is so chock full of weird characters it feels like a cartoon.

“Traffic” (1971) Color. Directed by Jacques Tati. Cast: Jacques Tati, Marcel Fraval, Honoré Bostel. Tati’s last feature has Mr. Hulot battling with gadgets to do with motor vehicles. Tati’s films are physical comedies and his sense of humor is like no one else’s.

“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948): B&W. Directed by John Huston. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt. Note: Three down-on-their-luck drifters, almost strangers, throw in together to prospect for gold in Mexico. Problems ensue.

“Wait Until Dark” (1967): Color. Directed by Terrence Young. Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna. Note: This taut thriller pits brave and blind Audrey against the vilest of hoodlums in her apartment. Warning: Don’t let anyone reveal the spoiler!

“Who’ll Stop the Rain?” (1978)*: Color. Directed by Karel Reisz. Cast: Nick Nolte, Tuesday Weld, Michael Moriarty. Note: A merchant marine reluctantly agrees to mule some heroin back to the USA for a journalist friend. It turns out to be a woefully bad idea.

“Wild Strawberries” (1957): B&W. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin. Note: Traveling to accept an honorary degree, an old doctor dreams and reminisces about the turns in the journey his life has taken.

“Wise Blood” (1979)*: Color. Directed by John Huston. Cast: Brad Dourif, Harry Dean Stanton, John Huston. Note: An adaptation of a Flannery O’Connor story about an Army vet, self-styled street preacher’s wacky efforts to fit into a world of shadows and scams.

“Z”  (1969): Color. Directed by Costa-Gavras. Cast: Yves Montand, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Irene Papas. Note: A political assassination’s cover-up in Greece spawns a compelling based-on-truth whodunit, with sudden plot twists, all told at a furious pace.


Tha, tha … that’s all folks!


  1. Thanks for sharing your list. I'm always looking for a good movie to spend some time with.

  2. I'm pretty sure it was at the Biograph that I saw "That Obscure Object of Desire", certainly one of my faves. Also, seeing "Quackser Fortune" there turned out to be a life changing experience. Emerging from that hometown lovefest into an unseasonably warm Richmond evening prompted me to change a brief visit back to my own home town into a permanent stay here. Thank you.